Alex Massie

The One-Term Pledge?

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Peggy Noonan thinks McCain should pledge to serve just a single term:

I still think a one-term pledge could win it for him, because it would allow America to punt. It would make the 2008 choice seem less fateful. People don't mind the chance to defer a choice when they're not at all sure about the product. It would give bitter Democrats a chance to regroup, and it would give those who like Obama but consider him a little half-baked to vote against him guiltlessly while he becomes fully baked. (Imagine the Q&A when Sen. Obama announces his second presidential run in 2011: "Well, Brian, I think, looking back, there is something to be said for the idea that I will be a better president now than frankly I would have been four years ago. Experience, if you allow it, is still the best of all teachers.") More, it would allow Mr. McCain to say he means to face the tough problems ahead with a uniquely bipartisan attitude and without having to care a fig for re-election. That itself would give him a new power, one that would make up for the lost juice of lame duckdom. It would also serve to separate him from the hyperpolitical operating styles of the Clinton-Bush years, from the constant campaign.

And Mr. McCain would still have what he always wanted, the presidency, perhaps a serious and respectable one that accrued special respect because it involved some sacrifice on his part.

A move that would help him win doubtful voters, win disaffected Democrats, allow some Republicans to not have to get drunk to vote for him, and that could possibly yield real results for his country. This seems to me such a potentially electrifying idea that he'd likely walk out of his convention as the future president.

Mr. McCain told Politico on Wednesday that he's not considering a one-term pledge.

Why would he not? Such modesty of intent is at odds with the political personality. The thing that makes them want to rule America is the thing that stops them from thinking of prudent limits. This mindset crosses all political categories.

There's something to this, for sure. But as Noonan admits it a) runs against the grain of Presidential ambition and b) would leave McCain hamstrung from Day One. He'd be a lame-duck President before he even took the oath of office. How would he get anything done? And how would he get anything done with a Democratic Congress in a way that advanced, rather than retarded his successor's prospects of holding the White House for the GOP?

But yes, the Beltway pundits would love it. Such sacrifice! Such nobility! Does John McCain really want to give David Broder a life-ending heart-attack, brought on by an ecstasy of bipartisan comity?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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